Originating in East Africa, coffee was one of the first internationally traded commodities. An Arab monopoly on the bean was broken by the development of tropical European colonies. Coffee was the ideal colonial crop, but its cultivation relied upon widespread slavery and abusive economic relationships between regions. Many of these institutionalized inequities remain embedded in post-colonial coffee trading patterns. Rich coffee-consuming nations and the multinational trading and roasting companies that service their demand enjoy neocolonial dominance of growers around the world, many of whom are small landowners and family farmers in poor countries. At the same time, developed-world governmental interest in producing countries has waned, leaving multinationals free to pursue their own policies in large parts of the world. At present, there is a worldwide slump in coffee prices that is devastating economies throughout the developing world without translating into meaningfully lower prices for coffee consumers. One of the few programs to step into this political void is Fair Trade. By reconfiguring the trading relationship between coffee producers and consumers to emphasize a more direct relationship, Fair Trade appropriates globalized trading networks for the benefit of both coffee growers and coffee drinkers.

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